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Developing at home - keep it simple

I frequently get questions about how to develop your film. Five years ago, I'd say just take your film to Walgreens, but they, like so many other retail outlets, have stopped developing film on premises. I still occasionally use when I want the best quality for developing color film, but most of my shooting now is on black & white film, primarily T-Max 100 for the fine grain it gives. It's easier, faster, cheaper and more fun to develop it myself at home. I develop 135 (35mm), 120, 16mm, 110, 126, 127, HIT and Minox films at home.

This post is about black & white developing, which is easiest and gives the best results at home. For information on color developing at home, see this post.

I also tend to shoot infrequently and sporadically, so being able to keep chemicals fresh for 6 months or so is a part of why I do it the way I do. Other people use different chemicals and have their own techniques, but here's what works consistently well for me.

My darkroom

My darkroom is one of the bathrooms in my condo where I can keep the chemicals and containers under the sink. I hang up a black photography backdrop that covers the edges of the door to make the room lightproof. I'm in a big high rise building where the door to the bathroom has a metal door frame, so some small super magnets from Amazon hold the backdrop in place and I have a hook on the back of the door to hang it when it's not in use. That room is also my room for repairing and restoring cameras and guitars, but that's another story.

My equipment

A Paterson tank - I use a 3 reel tank. It handles 3 reels of 135 (or 126) or 2 rolls of 120 or 127 film. Another reason to go 3 reel is that you can also buy a special Mod 54 insert to fit 4" x 5" film into a 3 reel tank.

If you're shooting 16 mm or 110 film, there are instructions online re how to cut down a regular reel. For Minox, I bought a dedicated Minox developing tank from eBay.

Two 1 liter or 1 quart plastic chemical storage bottles to keep fixer and stop bath in.

Four 125 ml chemical storage bottles to store unused developer in to keep it fresher once the original container is opened. These are small and flexible enough to squeeze out the air to keep the developer fresher than if it sits in the big bottle it came in.

A 100 ml graduated cylinder to measure developer

A 1000 ml measuring beaker to mix chemicals in

Some clips to hang the film from

My chemicals

I started using Ilford's chemicals and they work well for me. It's good to keep using the same brand as you can then learn it's characteristics and adjust your timing and technique based on the results you get. That being said, Ilford knocked it out of the park for me just using their standard instructions.

Ilfosol 3 developer - I buy the small 500 ml bottle and when I first crack it open, pour the remainder into smaller bottles to keep the remainder from oxidizing. This let's me keep it fresh far beyond their normal recommendations. This is a use once developer, so you throw out what you used after each batch.

Ilfostop stop bath - this you pour back in the bottle and can reuse over multiple batches. I tend to mix up a new batch only when I've used up a 500 ml bottle of Ilfosol.

Ilford Rapid Fixer - again reusable and I mix up new batch when I use up the 500 ml of Ilfosol.

Wetting agent - starting using one, then tried without it and found the city of Chicago water supply doesn't really cause spotting, so I've stopped using it.

How I develop the film

Step 1: Load the film onto reel and put in tank

When shooting, don’t wind film all the way back into the canister. Make sure the reels are dry or film may stick. Cut leader off film so there is a straight edge. IN COMPLETE DARKNESS, wind film from canister onto the reel, at end cut film off the canister, insert reel onto spindle, put reel and spindle into tank, put on tank cover and turn to close.

Step 2: Mix all the chemicals

  • Ilfostop: 1:19 so 50 ml to 950 ml water. Can be used more than once (will change from yellow to purple when it is exhausted or if you see fungus). Pour into chemical storage container. Discard the batch after you’ve used up all the original 500ml bottle of undiluted Ilfosol and then mix up some more from the original Ilfostop bottle.

  • Ilford Rapid Fixer: 1:4 so 200 ml to 800 ml water. Can be used more than once. Discard after you’ve used up all the original 500ml bottle of undiluted Ilfosol and then mix up some more from the original Rapid Fixer bottle.

  • Ilford Ilfosol 3 = 1:9 so 30 ml to 270 ml water per 35mm roll, 37 ml to 333 ml water per 127 roll or 50 ml to 450 ml water per 120 roll. Do this last and then can pour right into tank to start developing process (see below).

Step 3: Develop

Pour the Ilfosol developing solution in the tank. Use the wand to agitate the film back and forth 10 times in 10 seconds and repeat after each minute – tap the tank on the counter each time to remove bubbles from agitation. 10 seconds before the developing time is finished, carefully pour down sink.

Developing times based on the temperature of the solution are:

Step 4: Stop bath

Pour the Ilfostop into the tank right away to stop the development. Agitate 10 seconds every minute for a total of 3 minutes. Then pour stop bath back into its storage container.

Step 5: Fix

Add the Rapid Fixer. Agitate 10 seconds every minute for 7 minutes – tap on counter after each. Pour Fixer back into storage bottle. Once the fixer is out, your film is light proof.

Step 6: Wash

Take the top off the tank, leave it under a slowly running tap of lukewarm water for 10 minutes, giving it a couple of good dunkings at the beginning of the process.

Step 7: Final Rinse (only needed if you find spots on your developed negatives)

Fill tank with distilled water and add 4 drops of LFN Wetting Agent per liter of water.

Step 8: Dry

Once the film is washed, remove it from the reel and attach a film hanger to either end. Remove the excess water from the film with a squeegee or use paper kitchen towel folded gently around the film. Now hang it up to dry overnight.

Step 9: Cut

Cut and put into negative sleeves while still in bathroom.

Step 10: Scan

I use an Epson V700 flatbed scanner which gives good results. For black & white 35mm film, I scan 8 bit grayscale at 2400 DPI which gives you the resolution of a 9 megapixel digital camera.

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